The Thalion background novels
by Jurie Horneman
"Let me go, you dogs!" Valdyn cursed as the jailers dragged him through the marble corridors of the palace. Only two days ago he had been gambling in the Bloodied Claw, his favourite inn, when the royal guards had entered and arrested him. He'd been rotting away in a foul-smelling cell ever since, only coming out for some air and a beating once a day. He'd had more than enough of this. Yes, he had done some things which the law frowned upon, but so had every other cut-throat in the Claw, and many times worse as well. But the soldiers had just marched in, put him in chains and dragged him off to the palace, kicking and hissing. At least they hadn't returned unharmed. Valdyn had managed to make them regret coming before they had beaten him unconscious. He noticed that he was being taken through ever richer parts of the palace, and once again he wondered why he had been arrested. They stopped before a huge door flanked by fierce-looking guards. He was handed over and the jailers left. The guards eyed him suspiciously, whiskers quivering, as Valdyn drew himself up to his full height and gave them a cold stare. One of them walked to the door and knocked. "Enter", said a voice almost immediately. The guard opened the heavy door and looked threateningly at Valdyn, who cast one last disdainful look at him and walked proudly through the doorway. He entered a small, but richly decorated audience chamber. An ornamented throne stood on a low dais on the other side of the room. On the throne sat a grey-whiskered man. Valdyn looked more closely. It was the king himself! Valdyn had only seen him on special occasions, such as the Showing Festival, which would be in three days. Now Valdyn knew he was in trouble! The king cleared his throat and said: "You are Valdyn." Valdyn nodded. "You are called 'Lionheart'", the king continued, "because of your reckless courage and your fierceness." He chuckled. "How appropriate." Valdyn frowned. What did this man want of him? Although he had broken the laws often enough, he had never acted directly against the monarchy. "Do you know about the Lionheart, Valdyn?" Valdyn hesitated. This had to be some kind of trick. Everyone knew about the holy jewel, from which he himself had gotten his nick-name. Hadn't the king said so himself just now? "Of course", replied Valdyn. "My Lord", he added as an afterthought. The king frowned. "And you know what's going to happen in three days time?" "The Showing Festival?" Valdyn frowned. What game was this? Was he being blamed for some kind of crime he didn't know about? "You have to show the Lionheart to your people." "To prove my divine right to rule, yes." The king looked pensively at a beautiful fresco which covered the entire wall on his right, depicting one of his ancestors in a heroic battle. After some time, Valdyn started to clear his throat when the king suddenly turned to him. "The Lionheart has been stolen."
Valdyn was shocked despite himself. The Lionheart was the holiest relic of his people, the centre of their religion. It was reputedly impossible to steal. "How was it done? Who did it?" The king stared somberly at him. "It was done by master thieves. No others could have disarmed all the traps. They must have been accompanied by a mage as well, since all the magical protectors were removed. They knew exactly what to expect." "You mean they had help from the inside." The king nodded. "As to who did it, we have reason to believe that the thieves were sent by Norka." Valdyn widened his eyes in wonder. "Why would he do that? I thought he was happy in his wilderness." "No more. Reports reached us saying that he was creating an army. We sent some emissaries with messages of peace, and they told us that Norka has built a flying castle, and a fleet of air-ships. The last information that reached us is that he is building a giant fortress near our border and has amassed a huge army. That was two months ago." The king sighed. "We sent more spies and emissaries, but they never returned." "Why don't you just send in an army?" The king frowned. "Even if we could match Norka's strength, which we no longer can, for such an affair I would need divine blessing, and thus I would have to show the Lionheart." Valdyn thought about this. He still had no idea why he had been summoned. He looked at the king. "Why are you telling me this?" The king calmly looked back at him. Then he said: "I want you to bring back the Lionheart before the festival begins." Valdyn's mouth fell open. Then he started laughing. He just couldn't stop. Tears ran down his face. After some time he managed to regain control of himself, and he looked at the king who looked back with a disgruntled expression on his face. "I am glad you are amused. Now, I won't be so foolish as to assume that you will do it out of loyalty to your rightful king. You probably know that arch-chancellor Nargle craves the throne, and would have deposed me already if it weren't for the Lionheart. I suspect he is the one who helped the thieves. I don't think he would make a very good king. But that is of no matter to you. I hereby offer you a rich reward if you return." Valdyn wiped the tears out of his eyes. "Why me?" The king frowned even deeper. "Believe me, I would rather have sent one of my trusted veterans as well. At least they would have done it for free." He sighed deeply. "The high priest has asked the gods. It is your destiny to retrieve the Lionheart." He paused. "Did you really think your nick-name is a coincidence?" Valdyn was serious now. Destined by the gods? "I am sorry, my Lord", he said bowing, "but if the things I have heard about Norka's country are true, and if what you say is true as well, there is no reward in the world that could make me go there." "How about your life?" Valdyn stood straight again. The king seemed completely serious. "You have seen my dungeons. Would you like to see my torture chambers?"
Valdyn swallowed. He had heard stories about the king's torture chambers. The torturers were unmatched in dedication and attention to detail. The king smiled at his unease. "Do not worry, you won't go to Norka unprepared. We have a small dragon for you. You can fly straight to Norka's flying castle. Also, the high priest will imbue you with magical powers, increasing your resistance to pain and damage, and allowing you to regenerate should you be killed." Valdyn still didn't know what to say. He had planned to lead his easy life of drinking, fighting and robbing forever. Now this. The king coughed. "There is one more reason for you to go. Don't you have a relationship with a girl called Ilène?" Valdyn nodded, suddenly scared. What did Ilène have to with this? He never took her with him. She was too... innocent for his kind of work. "What does Ilène have to do with this?" The king hesitated. "Apparently she was praying in the temple's entrance chamber the night the Lionheart was stolen." Valdyn gasped. Not Ilène! "Is she dead? Did they kill her?" "No. They turned her to stone." Valdyn covered his eyes with his hands. No! "Can it be cured?" His voice trembled. "Yes. She was petrified by a dart dipped in a very rare poison which can only be found in Norka's country. If there is a cure, there would be the place to look." Valdyn removed his hands and gazed at the king. He no longer stood proudly. The threat of anarchy, of torture, and now what they had done to Ilène. He had to go. The king saw his decision. "Very well", he said. "Come. You will be escorted to the temple. There you can prepare for your quest."
This is the tale of Tarbos, God of Chaos, who devestated the lands of Lyramion; of how he came to be and how he came to fall...
A thousand years ago, tucked deep in the beautiful woods to the south-east of Lyramion, there was a small village called Forkbrook. The people who lived there were blond haired and good natured; they lived by fishing and hunting and traded with the nearest town which lay two days travel to the west. In this village lived a small boy named Tar. He was not like the other villagers. His hair was as dark as raven feathers by night and his temper was even darker. The other children often teased him and many were the times he Tar came home, dirty and covered with bruises, seeking the soft arms of his mother and pressing his face into her long blond hair. He never cried. His mother comforted and loved him, but sometimes she lay awake at night when her husband was asleep and thought about her strange son. To avoid the other children Tar often went into the woods alone, leaving early in the morning when his chores were done and returning just before the evening meal. His father often grumbled about his son's long absences but knew in his heart that it spared the boy the cruelty of the other children.
One day Tar left especially early. He felt filled with anticipation and was determined to go deeper into the woods than ever before, even though his father had warned him that a heavy storm was coming. He walked on, through hidden vales, crossing small tinkling brooks and using paths where the sun seldom reached the leaf-strewn earth. But he had seen all this before and hurried on without really looking. Finally he reached a clearing in the forest where he had never been before. He felt the thrill of the unknown run through his body and looked up at the darkening sky. On the other side of the clearing, almost invisible in the deep shadows, was a bare mound. In the mound was a dark hole, the entrance to a cave. Tar slowly crossed the clearing. He looked up at the sky again. He would have to hurry if he didn't want to get soaked to the bone. But first he must explore this cave, which seemed to be calling him in a voice he sensed and could almost hear. Everything in the clearing seemed to point at the dark cave entrance. Everything was quiet, so as not to disturb what was drawing Tar towards the inky black opening. With each step forward, Tar felt less in control, more a spectator than an actual participant. At last he reached the entrance. A spot of light grew larger, far back in the depths of the cave. Tar felt his feet take him forward again. He entered the cave. The air inside was heavy. The smell reminded Tar of a dead fox he had once found, but this smell was a thousand times stronger. The light grew brighter and bigger, flickering on the rough surface of the cave wall. Tar could make out a large shape lying on the floor ahead. He didn't know what was producing the light. A distant sound reached his ears, gradually growing louder. It sounded like water running over stones but was somehow different. His feet brought him to a standstill in front of the the large shape. He looked down. It was a corpse. The corpse of a bear. It had not been dead for very long but was already starting to decompose. Now the stench hit Tar with its full force and he drew back at the sight of the maggots twisting and turning in the rotting flesh. His feet wouldn't obey him, not even when the corpse started to move, started to lift itself, meat and maggots falling from it to the floor. It raised it's head until it was level with Tar's own and opened its eyes. Tar saw life flickering deep in the mouldering skull, an evil and unclean life. The corpse breathed in deeply. For a short moment all was still. Then the corpse said "Tarbos", breathing out a cloud of rotten air into Tar's face. Tar regained control of himself, clutched his face, and stumbled backwards. He could not breathe, could not see, tried to get the foul gas out of his lungs, gasping, choking. He fell back and started crawling towards the entrance, not seeing the corpse of the bear fall to the floor as if a puppeteer had let go of the strings. The flickering light faded away. The mound started trembling as Tar crawled towards the light, dust and dirt falling on him. Then he was outside. He looked back, blinking, tears streaming from his eyes. The mound collapsed with a loud rumbling. As the dust settled, all that could be seen was a rough patch of earth. Tar coughed and wiped the tears from his face. He spat, trying to get the vile taste out of his mouth. He sat still and wondered about what he was feeling. He felt as if fire was running through his veins, and it felt good. His head was clearer than it had ever been before. He looked around and saw everything anew, every leaf, every blade of grass, every pebble on the ground. At the same time he felt ashamed and shocked, as if someone had stripped away his body and exposed his naked spirit. He stood up, spat a last time and looked at the sky. It was very dark now. He ran towards his village, exhilarated, filled with a strange new power.
The sky was almost black when Tar came running out of the forest. He stood still, smiling broadly. He wasn't even tired. "What are you laughing about, dirthead?", said a sneering voice from behind him. Tar turned around. It was Mank. He was always teasing Tar, calling him names, picking fights. Mank was big for his age. Tar looked up at him, a cold look in his eyes, and said "Go scratch your flea-bites, you horse-faced dog turd." Mank's eyes widened, then he smiled. "So, learned some new words from your Dad, did you?" His smile broadened. "Only, he isn't your Dad, you know. Your real Dad was a forest pig." Mank started laughing and some other children who had come to watch laughed as well. Tar opened his mouth to reply, but then Mank pushed him hard and he stumbled back and fell to the ground. "See? He can't even walk properly!" All the kids were standing around Tar now, laughing. Mank bent over him, smiled and said: "And do you know what your mother was, runt?" Tar felt anger growing inside him, like a fire. "I'll tell you what your mother was." Tar no longer knew what he was doing, he knew only anger and hate. Everything turned red. He raised his arm and put his hand on Mank's chest. "She was..." But Mank never got any further. Tar felt something, some power running through his arm, through his hand. And he felt something move violently under his hand, in Mank's chest. It made a sound which suddenly seemed very loud. Mank's eyes grew very wide. Everyone was absolutely still, as if time were standing still. Thunder rumbled. Tar looked closely at Mank's face, his hand still on his chest. A small trickle of blood came out of the corner of Mank's mouth. Then he fell back, an expression of surprise and fear on his face. Everything started to move again, all at once. Children started screaming, parents ran outside to see what was going on and talked in loud voices. Only Tar still sat there, his arm raised, absolutely still. And Mank? Mank was lying in the dirt, very still. The villagers were moving towards Tar. He looked up at their angry faces. Then the storm finally broke and its full force was unleashed upon the forest and the village. The rain lashed down, the wind tore at the trees and houses, flashes of lightning struck four trees at almost the same time and deafening thunder drowned out every sound.
Tar was sitting on the bed in his parent's room, the storm raging outside. His mother had told him to wait when she had pushed him inside, his father had only looked at him, angry and disgusted. Now he could hear them talking outside. He didn't understand why everyone was so angry at his son. "Mank shouldn't have pushed me, I gave him what he deserved. I did!" He stood up and pressed his ear against the rough wood of the door. He could just make out what his parents were saying. "We really tried, but we knew when we found him. We should have left him in the woods." His mother was crying. She managed to stop sobbing and then said "But what can we do about it now?" Tar's father replied: "The villagers want to kill him. They think he's a demon." His mother started to sob even more loudly. Tar felt his father move to comfort her, hold her, and heard his father speak. "Don't worry, my dear, I know something better. We'll take him to Latheoz. He's a wizard, he'll know what to do." As his father took him along the path leading north to the hills Tar looked back at the village. He saw his mother but she didn't look at him. She had still been crying when she had kissed him goodbye. She was surrounded by the other villagers. They looked at him with angry faces, as if he was something detestable. The children were hiding behind their mothers. He wanted to look some more but his father pulled him around a bend in the path. He never saw the village again.
They camped that night. His father caught a rabbit and roasted it over the fire. They ate in silence, then slept. Tar's father hadn't said a word to him since they left. They reached the house of Latheoz the next day. Latheoz was an old man and was wearing a grey robe. He lived alone in a small stone house filled with weird magical objects and a lot of large mysterious books. Tar's father greeted him respectfully. The wizard grunted a little and asked why they had come. "It is because of him", Tar's father said and pointed at Tar, "He killed another boy. We think by magic. Now the other people want to kill him - they say he is a demon. I promised his mother, my wife, that I would bring him to you." Tar looked up at his father and asked: "Aren't you my father anymore?" His father looked down at him as if seeing him for the first time that day. He kept looking for a while, not saying anything, then turned back to Latheoz, who was also looking at Tar. The old man mumbled something, stood up and rummaged around in a dark corner. After a while he came back with a big crystal. "Hold this", he said to Tar. Tar took the crystal in his hands. He had expected a shock or a tingling feeling, but it felt just like a big piece of stone. Latheoz laid his old wrinkled hand on the crystal and closed his eyes. He held still for some time, then frowned, sweat forming on his forehead. With a sudden movement he jerked his hand away and opened his eyes. He stared at Tar, then looked at his father. "Just a big black wall...", he mumbled, seemingly confused, then he came to his senses and said: "I advise you send him to the Seekers of Perilous Knowledge. They might know what to do with him." They stared at each other for a while, then Tar's father said: "Very well. But how will he get there?" "I'll take him", said Latheoz, "I know some of the Seekers."
Tar had never seen anything like the lands through which Latheoz led him. They had travelled through the foothills of the Bollgar range and were now walking along a steep trail towards a pass through the mountains themselves. Latheoz didn't talk much but he didn't glare at Tar either, although he sometimes had a curious glint in his eyes. Tar could see that the journey was hard for the old man. Even so, Latheoz rested only for short periods and never ate much.
After two days travel they came down into small rock valley. At its centre stood a tall tower, made entirely of cold stone. "What's that?", asked Tar. "That's the Tower of the Seekers", answered Latheoz. "What do they seek?", asked Tar again. "Perilous knowledge." "Like moving dead things?" Latheoz looked strangely at Tar. "Perhaps, yes." Tar was more interested now. He stared at the tower. Finally they stood at the base of the tower, after having crossed the difficult country surrounding it. Latheoz seemed very tired. "Alright, here you are. I'm going back now." "Wait", Tar said, "Aren't you coming in?" Latheoz looked up at the tower and shivered. "No, I don't want to go in there." "But they won't know who brought me, or why I'm here!", Tar exclaimed. "Don't worry", said Latheoz with a weary smile, "They know we're here." Then Latheoz turned around and started walking back towards the mountains. Tar looked at him as he grew smaller and smaller, then looked at the double wooden doors at the bottom of the tower. He reached out to knock, but before his hand touched the wood, the door opened and someone inside said: "Well? Are you going to stand outside all day or are you coming in?" Tar looked into the dark hall but couldn't see anything. He stepped inside. The door closed behind him. Tar was standing in a dark hall. A man dressed in a dark robe and holding a torch gestured for him to follow. Tar followed him, up a winding stairway then down a corridor. Finally he was pushed into a small room where a bearded man, also clad in a dark robe, sat behind a large wooden desk. The man gazed sternly at him. Tar felt a little uncomfortable under the gaze but did not lower his eyes. After a while the man said: "So Latheoz thinks you're fit to be a wizard." He looked at his papers and wrote something down. "What is your name?", he asked without looking up. "Tar", Tar replied. The bearded man stared at him briefly as if he didn't believe him. Then he wrote the name down. "Very well", said the man, "You have some talent, so much is clear." Tar didn't understand but said nothing. The man looked at him. "Do you have any questions?" Tar thought intensly, then asked "Am I a Seeker now?" The man smiled and said: "Not yet. But with a little luck, you'll be a true Seeker one day." And so Tar joined the Seekers of Perilous Knowledge. The Seekers made him work hard, but he had enough to eat and his bed was warm and dry. They also taught him to read and write, and when they saw he learned quickly, they gave him basic knowledge of elementals and the demonic realms. Tar absorbed everything they taught him with a speed that surprised even the Seekers and he rose through the ranks faster than anyone before. But he never made any friends.
"Well, Tar, you're doing your Master's test tomorrow. Do you think you'll make it?" Tar lifted his eyes from the roll of parchment he was reading and looked into the eyes of the Master who had spoken to him. He smiled slowly and said: "Of course, Master Zanthi. I don't think there will be any problem." Master Zanthi laughed uneasily, having sensed the mocking tone. "Ha! You may be the youngest ever to attempt the Master's Trial, but don't overestimate yourself. Calling up a third level demon isn't something to be taken lightly." Tar smiled again and turned back to his studies. "Old fool", he thought, "The demons are eating out of my hand. And I have already called up a fourth level demon." Then he wondered. Things were easy for him. He performed with ease those incantations which other Seekers considered very difficult. "They're all fools."
The next day Tar was called at dawn and brought before the council. The Twelve looked at him with stern eyes but Tar stood before them with no apparent fear or concern, even though he knew they all felt he was too young. Grandmaster Kantuon cleared his throat and spoke. "Brother Tar, you will now risk your very being in an attempt to invoke and control a demon of the third level, thus proving that you are worthy to be a master. Do you wish to reconsider?" He looked gravely at Tar who smiled as he said "No, Grandmaster." Kantuon continued to look at him, his expression unchanging. Then he said: "I repeat, do you wish to reconsider?" Tar looked straight into the Grandmaster's eyes without flinching and replied "No, Grandmaster." Kantuon sighed and looked down at the scroll in his hands. "Very well", he said, "Go through that door." He pointed towards a door on Tar's right. "We'll check your progress here." Tar nodded, walked to the door and entered the Trial Room. It was small and completely dark except for a tall black candle which cast its wildly flickering light over the rough walls. Tar sat down and entered the trance state. Without hesitation he sank down through the outer levels of the demonic realms, casually fighting off the attacks and temptations of the lesser demons. He stopped on the fifth level to do battle with a group of demons who were trying to stop him. After destroying them, he sank further to the fourth level. A demon of formidable size blocked his path and attacked him. Tar frowned and counter attacked, knocking the demon over the horizon of the realm's nonspace. He waited patiently for the demon to return but it stayed away. He sank to the third level, quickly sensing a powerful demon in his vicinity. He honed in on it and bound it with his most powerful binding spells. It struggled, tried to attack, but Tar simply squeezed his mental hand until the demon no longer resisted. He calmly held his grip. The Twelve would soon sense his control of the demon and he would return a Master. A giant hand came up from below, grabbed him, enclosing him completely, then drew him down. Tars binding spell was broken. "Hellfire, a second level demon?" He didnt resist, sensing it was useless, but waited. He felt how he entered the second level and was thrilled. He was deeper than he had ever been before. But still he was going down, and soon he felt himself sinking out of the second level, crossing the final barrier. The realization of what was happening shocked him. "Only a Demon Lord could do this!" Then the giant hand opened, exposing him to the first level. He sensed the huge power which had drawn him down, the immense entity which was dwarfing his puny human form. He felt fear grow inside him but his curiosity was greater. "Who are you?", he demanded silently. If the Demon Lord gave his name, he could be called again. "If I get out of here." The King of Hell changed his appearance of pure chaos and took on a shape which could be comprehended by the human senses. A smile crossed the huge face. "Greetings, Tarbos. I am Thornahuun. I am your father", said the king with a thunderous sound which filled the space completely. Tar was speechless. "Tarbos ... The cave ... My father? Preposterous!" The Demon King's smile broadened. "Goodbye, Tarbos. We shall meet again." Tar felt himself being propelled upwards, faster and faster. He screamed: "Wait, Thornahuun! Come back!" But all that he heard from the Demon Lord as he sped up through the nine levels was great laughter. Tar was screaming as he came out of his trance. The Twelve came into the room and surrounded him. "Tar, what happened?", they asked. "We sensed you controlling the third level demon when you suddenly disappeared. Where..." Tar regained control over himself. He stood up without answering, brushed off their helping hands and looked at Kantuon who gazed calmly back at him. The other Masters fell quiet. Kantuon spoke: "I don't know what happened to you down there, Tar, but you demonstrated your worthiness. You are now a Master of the Seekers of Perilous Knowledge." Tar nodded, completely calm now. But under his calmness burned great anger and ambition.
Tar sat in his small room and closed the huge book of scrolls he had been studying with an angry thud. None of the normal tomes contained the knowledge he needed. He had to invoke Thornahuun and bind him, forcing him to tell the truth. He thought once more about the mound and the corpse of the bear, about his parents who had found him, about the Demon Lord who had called him Tarbos. How else could he have known that name if he hadn't been the force behind the gruesome messenger in the mound? Tar pounded the great book of power with his fist. Useless. It contained power of which most men only dreamed, yet it wasn't enough to summon a King of Hell. He needed older, deeper scrolls filled with greater power. Tar walked to Kantuon's study and knocked on the wooden door."Come in", came the Grandmaster's voice from inside. Tar entered. Kantuon wasn't alone. In a wide chair next to his large desk sat a young woman, not much younger than Tar. Tar hesitated, surprised. Kantuon noticed his reaction and said "Ah, yes. Tar, this is my niece, Princess Mylneh. Mylneh, this is Tar." Mylneh extended her hand. Tar kissed it. She smiled at him. Then Tar looked at Kantuon, raising his eyebrows. "Princess?", he asked. "Hm, yes." Kantuon seemed a little embarrassed. "It isn't very well known, but King Marakahn is my brother. I'd appreciate it if you would keep it to yourself." Tar smiled. "Of course, Grandmaster." Kantuon looked at a stack of papers on his desk. "Meanwhile, perhaps you might like to show Mylneh around the tower. She will be staying for a while and sadly I haven't got much time at the moment." Tar hesitated, thinking about his original purpose, then smiled at Mylneh. "Of course, Grandmaster. Your Highness?" He held out his arm to the princess. "Oh silly, call me Mylneh", she said laughing, and took his arm. They walked out of the room. Kantuon watched them, then sighed and went back to his work.
"I'm surprised at your manners, Tar", Mylneh said as they walked through the larger chambers towards the centre of the tower. Tar feigned shock. "Have I insulted you in some way, Milady?" She laughed. "Call me Mylneh! No, I would have thought that someone who lived in a tower away from everything wouldn't know what a girl looked like, let alone how to speak to one." Tar smiled. "Well, Mylneh, our education does not only concern itself with dark things and you would be surprised at the kind of temptations one has to resist when dealing with the darker sides of magic." They walked up the stairs towards the top of the tower. Tar felt pleased by her interest in him. Out of the corner of his eye he looked at her long, chestnut brown hair and her dark blue eyes. Her face and body weren't as perfect as those of the demons who had tried to seduce him, but she was warm and real, and Mylneh seemed genuinely kind and not out to destroy him, which was a nice change. As they came to the top, Mylneh gasped at the incredible sight of the Bollgar mountain range all around her. Tar stood next to her. It was a magnificent view, he had to admit. Everywhere one looked one saw the stark, uncompromising beauty of the mountains. Mylneh looked at him, her eyes sparkling, laughing. "It's wonderful!", she exclaimed. "Yes, it is", said Tar. "But you're not looking at the mountains! You're looking at me!", she said, feigned annoyance on her face. "Yes." Mylneh laughed at him. "Silly!", she said, then became more serious. "You know", she said after a while, "I thought this would be a really boring stay, but it might become interesting after all." "Why is that?", Tar asked innocently. "Well, I thought the only people I would be talking to would be these old men." She smiled at him.
The next day Tar visited the Grandmaster again. "Yes, Tar", he said, looking up from the scrolls on his desk. "What is it?" Tar looked him straight in the eyes. "I would like to read the forbidden scrolls, the ones that are locked away at the back of the library." Kantuon sat up. "You're not even supposed to know about them!" Tar shrugged. "It wasn't difficult to find out. Can I read them?" Kantuon sat back in his chair, a stern look on his face. "What do you need them for?" Tar looked away, then said "It's an experiment I want to perform. I want to invoke a Demon Lord." "What?!", exclaimed Kantuon. "Have you gone mad? Not even I would attempt to call up a King of Hell! I order you to abandon this experiment!" Tar glowered, then calmed his features again. "You old fool", Tar thought, "I will have those books even without your permission." "Of course, Grandmaster. I will destroy my notes immediately." Then he turned around and left. Kantuon watched him leave and wondered why Tar wanted to invoke a Demon Lord.
Over the next few days Tar and Mylneh saw each other often. Tar showed her the tower and told her what the Seekers did here. Mylneh told Tar about her father and the court. Tar noticed that when he was with Mylneh, he no longer felt angry or troubled. He was happiest when he was with her. One night, they again climbed to the top of the tower to look at the stars. Mylneh was enchanted by the night sky. Tar stood next to her. After a while he put his arm around her shoulders. Mylneh looked at him. "Tar?" Tar looked in her eyes. She seemed sad and happy at the same time. "Yes?", he said. "Kiss me." Tar raised his eyebrows, but saw she meant it. He took her chin gently in his hand and placed his lips on hers. It seemed to last forever. Then Mylneh pulled back and Tar noticed that her eyes were moist. "Tar?", she asked. "Yes?" "I must leave tomorrow." Tar was quiet for a moment. Then he recovered. "What?" "I wanted to tell you as late as possible, so as not to spoil our last few days." "Is that why I got a kiss?" His voice sounded bitter. "In payment for entertaining you for a while?" "Tar. Don't make this too hard. You knew I had to leave at some time." But he had turned away and was leaning on the parapet. "Tar?" He didn't reply for a moment, then he said "I wanted you to be there. I wanted you to see it." "See what?", she asked. He turned around, fire burning in his eyes. "I'm going to invoke a Demon Lord. I'm going to fight him." Mylneh took a step back, frightened by this sudden change in him. "But, you told me that Demon Lords were the most powerful demons there are." "They are. And I'm going to conquer one. Think of the power I'll have." "Oh Tar, don't do it. How can you possiblly stand up to a creature like that? He'll crush you like a fly!" He looked coolly at her. "He won't. I know." "Tar, you mustn't ..." He interrupted her. "No-one can tell me what to do or what not to do. This is all academic anyway, isn't it? You won't be there. I'll ask you only once, Mylneh. Stay. It won't take long. I'll have finished my preparations soon." But Mylneh shook her head and took a few steps away from him. "No, Tar. I don't want to be around when you try something like that." And with that she turned and ran down the steps. Tar didn't stop her. He leaned on the parapet again and gazed sombrely at the starlit landscape. "Stupid girl", he thought. "You're just as small-minded as the others."
The next day Tar wasn't there when Mylneh left. Instead he sat in the library and read the forbidden scrolls. He had managed to pick the lock and break the magical seals. Now he sat there, reading intensly, occasionally making notes. Time passed unnoticed. He found the spell he needed and copied the vital parts. He was writing down the final incantations when the door to the library suddenly crashed open. Grandmaster Kantuon stood in the doorway, obviously furious. He strode forward to the desk where Tar was studying, looked down at the scrolls and back at Tar and slammed the books shut. "Tar", he said with a voice seething with suppressed rage, "I told you expressly not to read these books. They are only to be used with consent from the Twelve and from me. You have ignored a direct order and will receive just punishment. By sunset, you will have left this tower. You may continue your studies in the small hut on the hill to the north." Kantuon's eyes widened in anger as he saw that Tar looked back at him levelly, obviously not impressed. "Very well, Grandmaster", he said with a calm voice. "I have found what I was searching for. I have no need to stay at the tower any longer." He stood up and walked out of the library, leaving Kantuon staring speechlessly at his retreating back.
The same afternoon Tar left the tower and entered the hut. It had been standing empty for a while but he had soon made it inhabitable. He never looked back at the tower. Tar looked out of the window in his study. It was dark enough now. A huge storm was forming over the hut. He turned away and prepared himself. He now had enough knowledge. He might be able to find and control Thornahuun. A shudder went through his body. The forbidden scrolls had been horrible. His very being had felt tainted after reading those ancient, gruesome books. But now he was ready. He breathed deeply and entered the magical trance state. Fast, faster than ever before, he sank through the first eight levels, slicing through the lesser demons like a hot knife through butter. Then he once again passed the final barrier. He was on the first level. He didn't hesitate, but spoke the name of the one he sought. "Thornahuun!" Surprisingly, the Demon Lord appeared almost instantly. The king had to be up to something. He looked at the boiling chaotic shape which was slowly changing into a huge, vaguely human entity. The king was smiling. "Greetings, Tarbos." His smile broadened. "What can I do for you, my son?" He chuckled. Tar remained calm, although he felt anger rising up within him. "Why do you persist in calling me your son?", he asked. "Because you are", answered Thornahuun. "Do you not remember when we met in the cave with the mound?" Tar frowned, sensing the king was telling the truth. "Then my parents did find me in the forest ..." The king chuckled again. "Yes. Your real mother was a witch. She was all too glad to be inseminated by a Demon Lord. She didn't realize what it meant, what exquisite pain it would cause. You had burrowed your way out after only seven months. You had quite an appetite." The king laughed cruelly. Tar steeled himself, suppressing his anger. He had never known this woman. "Why did you do this?" The king looked down at him, still smiling. "Why, I have big plans for you, Tarbos. You will conquer the world for me." Tar felt his anger growing almost out of control now. "Not before I conquer you!", he screamed, and let power stream from his being towards Thornahuun. The king was hurled back by the blast but recovered immediately. His smile grimmer, he said: "So, that is how you want it, eh? Very well. I created you. Now I will destroy you." With that he raised his claw and attacked. Thus began a magical battle which shook the foundations of the demonic realms. In the natural world, over Tar's hut, a storm raged with unparalleled force. In the Tower of the Seekers, Kantuon felt the immense magical vibrations and concentrated deeply to find their source. After an immeasurable time, both Tar and Thornahuun stopped fighting. They were exhausted. Tar's new-found power was a match for the king's but he couldn't beat him. Neither could the king destroy Tar. Thornahuun smiled wearily. His plan needed a change. He saw an opportunity for bringing even more chaos to the world. He mentally called his brother. "Bralkur." It didn't take long. All the realms had been following the gigantic battle. "Thornahuun, my brother" Thornahuun did not even consider asking for help. "Bralkur, I shall be defeated." Bralkur showed no reaction at all. "My essence will enter my son. I ask you to help him if he should need it." Bralkur didn't hesitate. "As you wish, my brother. Farewell." Thornahuun raised himself for one final effort. Tar saw the movement and attacked the king, power flaring from him. However, Thornahuun was not resisting but was flying straight towards Tar, closer and closer, laughing. Then he merged with Tar's being. Tar felt his mind being stretched beyond its limits as his essence mingled with the Demon Lord's. He reeled at the size of the king's mind, the world it encompassed, and tried to flee, tried to hide, but couldn't. His being spread itself across the Demon Lord's, mixed with it, became one with it. For an eternity, his universe was destroyed. Then he felt his mind accept its new form and he slowly, half-consciously started floating up through the levels of the realms. No demon blocked his way.
Kantuon opened his eyes, deeply shocked. He tried to fully comprehend what Tar had done but couldn't. To merge with a King of Hell ... the power it would give. He stood up, covered his face with his hands. He mustn't think about it. A being with enough power to move mountains, concentrated in one human. But then he wondered if Tar was really human. He couldn't be, not any more. He stood up and called for a servant. The council must come together. This abommination must be destroyed. He looked up at the Seeker who had entered. "Call the Twelve", he said and started at the sound of his own voice. He sounded older, much older than he really was. "No matter... the king. I must warn Marakahn."
Tar came to slowly. He felt as if his body had been speeded up a thousand times. Somehow, he had managed to control Thornahuun's essence. He was himself, Tarbos. No longer Tar. He was infinitely more powerful now. His mind still reeled when he contemplated the size of his new power. "I have defeated my father. I have his power now. He was like a god. Yes. I am a god now. TARBOS, GOD OF CHAOS." He started laughing, louder and louder. He couldn't stop himself, and he didnt care. Not even when the hut started trembling with his laughter.
Kantuon looked around the circle of Masters. These were the Twelve, the most powerful Seekers of Lyramion. Few would think of challenging them. "Yet now, who will say what we can do about this threat?" He cleared his throat. "My brothers, we are in a dire situation. Our former brother, Tar, has mingled his essence with that of a King of Hell." They gasped, then all started talking at the same time. "But ..." "How could he..." "That's preposterous!" Kantuon held up his hand, demanding quiet. They fell silent. "It is true, my brothers. I have already sent a message to King Marakahn. Meanwhile, we must try to stop him ourselves." The Twelve looked at each other. Together, they formed a magical force which knew no equal. Yet each of them felt that they would very probably lose their lives, and worse, in the coming battle. Kantuon stared at each of the silent Masters. "Let us go, my brothers."
Tarbos sat on an ornamental throne he had burned out of a large block of stone. The stone had originally been a part of the foundations of his keep, which had collapsed. He smiled and looked down at the ruined land which lay around him. He heard a sound. A group of people was approaching the ruins of his hut. He waited patiently. It was Kantuon and the Twelve. "Ah, Kantuon", he exclaimed with obvious pleasure, "You have come to worship me. Good." Kantuon stopped, a grave expression on his face. "It is as I feared", he thought, "The power was too much for him." "We have not come to worship you, Tar. We have come to stop you. We..." Tarbos' loud laughter interrupted him. It grew louder and more maniacal. The Twelve looked at each other. Tears were running down Tarbos' face now. It seemed as if he would never stop. Finally he calmed down and managed to talk without chuckling too much. "You, you want to stop me?" He burst out laughing again. Then after a few moments he became serious again. He looked sternly down at Kantuon and the Twelve. "Seriously now. First of all, you will call me Tarbos. Second, I am now a God, the God of Chaos, and I expect proper worship. So, if you want to live, go down on your knees." The Twelve were shocked at this display of insane, conceited calm. Kantuon turned to them. "My friends", he said in a calm voice, "It is as I feared. We must combine our powers and destroy him." They gazed at each other, then, one by one, they all entered the magical trance state, holding each other's hands so as to form a circle of thirteen. All thirteen dark wizards sank deeper into their trances, sweat forming on their brows. A globe of pure energy formed in the centre of the circle. It grew, pulsing with many colours. Then it expanded and curved toward Tarbos at the speed of light. Tarbos, who had been watching, held up his hand and deflected the incredible power without flinching. He stood up, no longer amused, and spoke. His voice was terrible, no longer human. "So, you will not bow before your rightful Lord? Puny fools! You will all perish, here and now!" And with that he raised his hand. From the palm of his hand burst forth a fountain of black energy which shot towards the circle of wizards. The effect was terrible. They were simply blown to pieces before they could even react.
Meanwhile, King Marakahn had received his brother's message and sat with his counsellors in the great hall of his citadel. "Well, Mandek? What do the wizards say of this threat?" Mandek, an old man clad in the grey robes of the Keepers of the Balance, stood up and said with a grave voice "Your Majesty, my eleven brothers and I have considered this throughout the night. We think this menace must be destroyed before he is our doom." The king thought quietly about this and then said "Very well. I think this is a matter where magic is the best solution. But can he be stopped?" He looked up and stared at Mandek, who coughed and answered "It is possible, Your Majesty. Ancient spells are available to us, for control over a Demon Lord, which is what this Tar has become if we may believe Grandmaster Kantuon's story." The king looked vaguely annoyed. "I trust my brother in this, Mandek. He wouldn't send a message like this if he weren't absolutely sure." Mandek cast down his eyes. "Of course, Your Majesty." "Meanwhile", continued the king, "I have sent a messenger to this Tar to inform him that he may not enter our land. It is doubtful that he will heed this if things are as you say, but we must try." "Yes, Your Majesty. May I ask whom you have sent?" "It was Sir Mando, one of my best knights. He volunteered."
Sir Mando rode down from the Bollgar mountains on his tired horse and looked out over the valley below him. He saw the Tower of the Seekers to his right. The hut, his destination, was supposed to be a bit further, but he couldn't see a thing. The sun started to sink behind the mountains when he rode past the tower which stood there like a black gravestone. Mando called but no-one answered. Puzzled, he rode on through the big boulders towards the place where the hut was supposed to be. The land around him was completely lifeless, the silence absolute. Once he thought he saw something scurrying away behind a boulder but he didn't find anything when he looked. He rode on, his unease deepening. Mando reached the hill where the hut was supposed to be. It simply wasn't there. Mystified, he tied his horse's reins to a tree and started to climb the steep path to the top of the hill. Something was lying on the rocky ground further up. It was the size of a human hand. He climbed on until he approached the small object. Then he saw what it was. He turned pale and sank slowly to his knees. It was a human hand, severed at the wrist and burned black. He turned it around with his knife. Disgusted, he stood and walked on towards the top. Tarbos sat on his throne of rock and gazed around. He was bored. He had been sitting there for two days and had found out that he no longer needed food or drink. However, he found that he longed for something else. "Mylneh" He was angry at her. He wanted to punish her, to show her how wrong she had been, how powerful he had become. On the other hand he wanted to hold her, to kiss her, to once again experience the simple joy he had ... His senses warned him of a living being approaching and he broke from his reverie. Someone was coming up the hill. No form of life had come in his vicinity since he had destroyed the wizards. Every man, woman and child, every animal, bird and insect had left the valley. Tarbos sat up, all his senses focused on this sudden diversion. "It's a human. Iron ... a knight. The first to worship the God of Chaos." Tarbos grinned. The blackened hand wasn't the only thing Mando found as he climbed towards the top of the hill. As he came higher, he noticed more signs of a massacre; pieces of black cloth burned at the edges, pieces of indefinable flesh, more limbs. He found an ear in a clump of dead grass. A sense of horror and impending doom filled him as he climbed over the last ridge. They looked each other in the eyes. Mando flinched and looked away under Tarbos' terrible gaze. A deep, evil light shone out of those eyes. He knew this man, or demon, was responsible for the massacre which had left the gruesome remains. He cleared his throat and spoke. "I have been sent by the good King Marakahn. He has heard from Grandmaster Kantuon of your despicable action and informs you that you are no longer welcome in his kingdom. If you are caught within its borders, you will be captured and executed." He said the last words very quietly. When Tarbos still hadn't reacted after around a minute had passed Mando looked up. Tarbos was sitting there, expressionless. Then, he chuckled. And he chuckled again. He started chuckling more loudly until eventually he was laughing. Louder and louder he laughed until he was roaring and Mando felt the ground shake under the force of the demonic glee. Then suddenly Tarbos sat up and screamed "KNEEL BEFORE ME, YOU WORM!" Shaken by this outburst of anger, Mando felt himself fall forward on his knees. Tarbos stood up. "Miserable, pitiful human! How dare you and your puny king address me, the God of Chaos, in such a manner! I have a message for your king." He raised his hands and a piece of Mando's armour and clothing fell away, revealing his naked belly. He felt a tearing sensation, starting at his navel, and gasped as the pain hit him. Realizing what was happening to him he tried to stop it with his hands but it was no use. After a while, Tarbos lowered his hand and Mando looked down at his body with a look of shocked disbelief on his face. Tarbos grinned and said: "Do not worry. You will not die. Not until you have delivered my message to your king."
After the messenger had left, Tarbos smiled grimly. "So, this king thinks to command me. Soon he will lie grovelling at my feet and then I will take his daughter before his very eyes." But first Tarbos needed an army. He extended his senses like tendrils into the ground and searched for all the warriors who lay buried on the ancient battlefields around the valley. With one thrust of his will he forced their rotten corpses up. With another he opened a thousand gateways to the demonic realms and ordered demons to come through, bringing new, evil life to the long-dead bodies. They came slithering and shuffling towards his hill, vile light flickering deep in their empty eye sockets. Some still had flesh on their bones, others were mere skeletons. Tarbos looked at his army and smiled broadly. "Greetings, my loyal servants. We shall go and conquer a kingdom." The Earth shuddered as the demons responded to him, screeching and howling, clattering their rusty swords against their shields.
Meanwhile, Mando rode as if a demon was on his heels. His horse sensed that its rider was no longer sane and was on the verge of panic. Mando felt only the pain from his belly growing worse with each mile. The only things which kept him from going insane were his oath as a knight and the message he must deliver to his king. A lone horse hobbled slowly towards the king's castle. It was visibly exhausted, trembling on its feet. As it neared the castle, the guards recognized a knight slumped in the saddle and led the horse into the courtyard. There the knight fell off the horse with a loud crash. As the stable hands pulled him up, he regained consciousness. The men then noticed what was wrong with the knight and backed away in terror. But the knight didn't see them and stumbled slowly into the castle. King Marakahn was listening to the sorry tale of a cheated merchant when several servants came running into the great hall, horrified expressions on their pale faces as if they were fleeing from something. The chancellor came to a halt before the king, opened his mouth, his entire body trembling, and all fell quiet. The chancellor closed his mouth and turned around, his face filled with terror, to look at the figure who had appeared. The king who had been watching all this with growing wonder and anxiety, raised his eyes to the wide doorway. The person standing there stumbled forward. Marakahn gasped as he recognized the broken man. "Mando!", he exclaimed and rushed forward to help him. But as he reached out to grasp Mando's shoulders, he drew back with disgust and horror on his face. For Mando was not the man who had ridden out to deliver a message for his king. His skin was pale as a corpse's, his hair as white and lifeless. His eyes were dead orbs sunken deep in their sockets. But worst was the horrible wound in his belly - a large hole in his armour and clothing exposed the ragged opening in his skin and flesh. Marakahn staggered back as he saw the empty abdomen. Mando gazed at him, a look of extreme pain in his eyes, and spoke. "He told me I would not die until I gave you his message." His voice sounded like that of an old, sick man. Marakahn stood trembling. "What is his ...", he stammered, then stopped. He looked in Mando's eyes with pity on his face. "Mando...", he whispered, "Perhaps our wizards can..." But Mando looked back calmly and grimaced. Marakahn realized he was trying to smile. Mando cast down his eyes. "No, my Lord." He looked up and his expression had changed. "Please...", he said, pleading. Marakahn swallowed. Then he asked, almost whispering: "What is his message?" Mando took a deep breath and answered: "Lord Tarbos, God of Chaos, tells you that he will soon come to claim these lands and that he may show mercy upon those who worship him faithfully, and that, and that..." Coughing racked his weakened body. He managed to stop for a moment, took another deep breath, tears glistening in his eyes, and said his last words: "And that he will take Princess Mylneh as his bride." For a number of heartbeats all went quiet. Then blood came from Mando's wound, a trickle at first, then growing into a steady flow. His knees buckled and he fell into King Marakahn's arms. The blood was gushing from the gaping hole in Mando's body as the king held him tenderly and watched his face, tears running down his own cheeks. The king had never seen a happier expression on a man's face than on Mando's when he died. Marakahn slowly lowered Mando's body to the floor and closed his broken eyes. Then he stood and looked at the side entrance, where Princess Mylneh had just come in. She stared at her father, his grim expression, his blood-covered clothes and the body lying in a pool of blood on the floor.
"Father?", she stammered. "What has happened?" The king looked down at the body, then clicked his fingers. The frightened chancellor came up to him, nervously wringing his hands. "Take Sir Mando away", said the King with a harsh voice. "Prepare him for a suitable burial." He turned around and sat down on his throne. "Yes, Your Majesty", stammered the chancellor. He hurriedly ordered some of the servants to carry the body away and some others to remove the blood. Mylneh walked up to her father and asked again "Father? What happened?" The king, who had been staring sombrely into the distance, looked up and stared at Mylneh as if seeing her for the first time. "Mando has brought a message from Tar... Tarbos", he said, staring at the pool of blood to which the servants were attending. "It cost him his life." He shivered and looked away. Mylneh saw how deeply shocked her father was. "What was the message?", she asked very softly. "He claims to be a god. Lord Tarbos, God of Chaos. He is... coming here, to take this kingdom. And... he wants you as his bride." Mylneh turned white as she heard these last words, then sadness filled her soul and her eyes became moist. "I knew it... I knew he would go too far." She looked at the king. "Oh father, will we be able to stop him?" The king sighed. "I hope so, my dearest. I will summon Mandek and ask him how the preparations are progressing."
Mandek came shortly after that, looking a little disgruntled. Marakahn told him about the message. "Well, Mandek? Have you and your brothers found the right spell yet?" Mandek cleared his throat. "We have found one, Your Majesty. But there is one problem." He cast down his eyes, coughed, then glanced briefly at Mylneh before continuing. "The spell must be cast by thirteen people - four white wizards, four grey, four black, and... someone who knew Tarbos." Mylneh's eyes widened. She opened her mouth to speak but the king cut her off with a gesture and asked: "Is there any danger?" Mandek looked down, then answered. "There is, yes. It all depends on the determination of, er, the person who is the, er, focus of the spell." He glanced at Mylneh again. The king leaned back in his chair and said "I will not endanger my..." But Mylneh interrupted him and said: "I will do it." The king looked long at her but said nothing. Instead he turned to Mandek and said very quietly: "Very well. Prepare her." Mandek sighed. "Yes, Your Majesty." He prepared to leave with Mylneh when the king said: "Wait. Does it matter where the spell is cast?" "Uhm... no, Your Majesty. Why?" The king smiled. "There is an old castle in the mountains to the northeast of the capital. It would be much safer there." Mandek bowed. "Of course, Your Majesty. What is this castle called?" "Its name is too old to be remembered. You will call it Godsbane."
Dark, oily clouds hung over the battlefield as Tarbos looked out over his undead army and smiled. The remains of the army which had opposed him were fleeing, mercilessly followed by his warriors who needed neither rest nor nourishment. Soon he would reach the capital and the king's castle. Then Mylneh would be his and all would crawl in the dust before him.
"Your Majesty, there is another messenger from your army." King Marakahn sighed, dreading more bad news. "Very well. What is your message, good man?" The messenger looked up. One could clearly feel he had seen many horrible things in the last few days and the king waited patiently until he had drawn his wits together. "Greetings, Your Majesty. I ... I have been sent by Sir Laneanor to tell you that the province of North Danormia has been conquered by Tarbos' army. We... We were forced to retreat, Your Majesty. They were demons! Undead monsters! We..." The king raised his hand to silence him. "Yes, I have heard many reports like this." He fell silent in thought, a troubled expression on his face as so often over the last few days. "If only I could be sure that Mylneh is safe and that the spell will work." He pushed these doubts away and forced a smile. "They mustn't suspect how bad things reallly are." "Alright. I thank you for your message. Do not worry, we will stop him." But his mind was filled with the image of Tarbos' demonic army, cutting through his land like a sharp sword through flesh, leaving only gray death in its wake.
When Tarbos was two days away from the capital, having chased the king's army before him all the time, he sensed a great concentration of magic to the northeast. Troubled, he went into a trance and sent his mind out on wings of darkness towards the source of magic. Once there, he recognized which spell was being worked and who was the focus. "Mylneh" He concentrated on the place. "It's a castle... Godsbane..." He returned to his body, seething with anger, and changed his army's course with a single unspoken command.
"Mylneh? What is wrong?" She looked up. Just now, she had sensed dark fingers obscenely caressing her mind. She shivered, feeling unclean. "It was nothing", she told Mandek, then went on with the chanting of the Great Spell. Mandek frowned, then continued with his own part of the spell. Marakahn was pacing the great hall, angry and frustrated in his helplessness. "How can I convince these people that all will be well when I am not sure myself? When nothing seems to stop this Tarbos?" He rubbed his eyes, he hadn't slept properly in days. A weary messenger entered the great hall and knelt before him. Marakahn grimaced and said: "Yes? What is your message?" "Your Majesty", the man stammered, "Lord Tarbos's army has changed course. They are no longer heading for the capital!" Horror filled the king as he asked what he already knew. "Where is he headed?" "To the northeast, Your Majesty." The king sat down on his throne, defeated. "The northeast... to Godsbane."
Tarbos strode forward through the ranks of his demonic army with long, powerful strides, pushing aside those who weren't quick enough to get out of his way. As he neared the centre of the battle he drew his great sword and walked on purposefully. He felt filled with power and exhilaration. Soon Godsbane would fall, although all the king's armies were gathered here to defend it. Then Tarbos reached the front line and grinned as he saw the horror in the defenders' faces at the sight of him. He raised his sword and started hacking. Men fell before him like corn before the farmer's sickle as he fought steadily onward towards the large gates of Godsbane. He could have blasted them all apart here and now, but this was much more fun.
Inside, Mylneh heard the sounds of battle raging, the clash of metal on metal, the screams of the dying. Terrified, she looked at the twelve wizards but they were all mumbling their part of the spell. She closed her eyes tightly and continued to chant. Laneanor had the remaining human knights regroup before the gates of Godsbane in a last desperate attempt. They held off the demonic warriors as best they could but they were tired and Laneanor knew that they would all die here. He fought on, grimly. If they could buy the necessary time with their lives, so be it. Then he noticed the huge warrior who came through the ranks of the enemy and his eyes widened with fear. It was Lord Tarbos. He looked like the demon he was, his face a mask of hatred and passion, his eyes burning with evil fire, his armour of the coldest, strongest steel. Tarbos raised his great jagged sword and attacked. Laneanor tried to parry, but after two vicious slashes his own sword was cut in two. He backed against the wooden gate and looked around for another sword. Then he realized he was the last one left. Enrodar, who had fought so bravely in so many wars, lay in the dirt, cut from shoulder to chest. Gambon, who had been his friend for over ten years, lay against the gate, blood seeping from a score of wounds. Over and under them lay the other knights. "All dead."
Laneanor let the broken piece of his sword fall out of his hands and looked out over the enemy's army. The sky was boiling. And all he could see under the cover of dark clouds were row upon row of Tarbos' undead warriors, with an insane red light glaring from their eyes and flesh falling from their bones. Finally his gaze fell upon the face of Lord Tarbos himself. They looked at each other for an infinite moment. Then Tarbos effortlessly lifted the huge sword and plunged it through Laneanor.
Mylneh stood at the centre of the circle of the twelve wizards, holding the star-shaped jewel in her hands. It was the Amberstar, the jewel which would capture Tarbos and banish him far, far away. It had taken long days and nights to create it, but at last it was finished. Now came the most difficult part; the twelve wizards would concentrate all their power in Mylneh, who had to focus her entire being and direct this power towards Tarbos. Mylneh swallowed. Mandek had explained that the least distraction would mean failure and instant dispersal of the combined power. She closed her eyes again and ignored the mumbling of the wizards. All she should think of was Tarbos. Tarbos had blasted the gates wide open and slaughtered the few defenders in the castle. He sensed that the magic came from far above him and ran towards the central tower. With a casual gesture he raised his hand. The door set in the bottom of the tower blew apart into a thousand pieces. A knight who had been guarding it screamed and ran out, where he fell under Lord Tarbos' sword. Tarbos started climbing the stairs. Mylneh felt her hair stand on end as the power of the wizards gathered itself inside her. She frowned, then ignored the curious sensation and concentrated on Tarbos again. Tarbos was almost running up the stairs now, sensing the huge concentration of magical power in the chamber above him. He came to the last door which shattered under his hand and then he had reached the source of the magic. His eyes widened as he saw that Mylneh was the focus of the twelve wizards' power and he strode towards the centre of the magic circle with his sword ready in his hand. The wizards kept on mumbling, caught too deep in their trance to sense or react to anything. Mylneh did not move but simply stared at Tarbos, horrified. "How he has changed..." She felt the power growing inside her. Tarbos stood before her, his face a mask of hatred and anger, and raised his sword. Mylneh felt the power reaching a climax inside her and lifted the Amberstar. Her eyes still wide with wonder, she placed it on Tarbos' chest. Then she felt a force being released and the power flowed througfh her into Tarbos. Tarbos looked down at his chest and saw his armour beginning to melt under the glowing Amberstar. Then his clothes were burned away and his flesh was touched. His scream made the tower tremble. He tried to move his arms to destroy Mylneh with magic, but he was powerless. Slowly the Amberstar sunk deeper inside him and he felt how it burned a hole through his body. The essence of his being was trying desperately to escape but was pinned down like a butterfly. He felt his body burning away from the inside. He felt a force tugging at his being, drawing it away. It tore loose from his body and he saw his own shuddering, burning body being destroyed by a wide-eyed Mylneh. He was being dragged higher and higher, faster and faster, as if he was falling upwards. He suddenly sensed where he was going. "The third moon!" He was slammed down deep into the core of the cold block of stone that was Lyramion's third moon. Without Tarbos the gateways to the demonic realms were closing and the demons had to leave the land of the living. Uninhabited, the bodies of the undead warriors fell lifelessly to the ground. The entire area around Godsbane looked as if a battle had raged there a hundred years ago, not just a moment ago.
Mylneh looked in confusion at the Amberstar and the heap of ash at her feet. Mandek came and gently took the star-shaped jewel from her. "Come, Mylneh. We must go now." He took her hand and led her out of the chamber, followed by the other wizards. She didn't react to seeing the bodies, ancient and fresh, lying all around. The wizards behind her closed the gates and put great magical seals on it. Mandek took the Amberstar and pressed it onto the wood, where it left a deep impression. The seam between the double doors disappeared and, starting around the Amberstar, the wood changed into something else, something harder and smoother. The hardening effect spread over the great doors and went on over the walls, over all of the castle until entire Godsbane had been turned into something stronger than stone.
The only way to ever free Tarbos from his celestial prison deep in the third moon was to perform a counter-spell inside Godsbane, which is why the great Sealing Spell was put on the castle by the twelve wizards. Only the Amberstar could break the seal, but the Amberstar had been divided into thirteen pieces. Each wizard kept one of the twelve points of the star, to guard them. Mylneh kept the centre piece. To further ensure that no-one would ever try to enter Godsbane, the Guild of Paladines was founded, who vowed to guard its gates forever. The task of repairing the damage which Tarbos had caused could begin.
This is the tale of what happened a thousand years later.
One night, a dark wizard called Marimon was studying scrolls when he felt a tugging force on his mind. He frowned in puzzlement and entered the magical trance state. Slowly he sank through the demonic realms, where he was soon greeted by a Demon Lord. "Greetings, Marimon." "How do you know my name?", Marimon stuttered. "I know many things. I am Bralkur, King of Hell. I want to make a pact with you." "He must have sensed my true power." Bralkur smiled. "How right you are. But I am sure you will be interested in the kind of power I can offer you." Marmion squirmed under the incredible aura of the Demon Lord. Then he slowly realized what he would be able to do with the power Bralkur offered. A sly smile spread over his face. "Well? What kind of pact?" Bralkur chuckled inwardly. "The most powerful are always the easiest to seduce." There was only one being where this had not been true. "I'm going to help your son, Thornahuun."
Sir Marillion stood on the battlements of the small keep which guarded the ancient castle of Godsbane and thought sombrely about the conversation he had had with his fellow paladines. They said that Lord Tarbos would not return after a thousand years, that they were fools to guard an old castle. Some of them even said that Lord Tarbos was only a myth, a story to frighten children. But he believed the story, and he believed the danger was still there. So he guarded with vigilance, whereas his fellow paladines slept when they had guard duty. A loud explosion brought him out of his reverie. Looking over the walls, he saw smoke and fire coming from the gates of the tower. He hurried down the stairs and saw that several other paladines had heard the noise and were waking the others. He reached the entrance hall and saw immediately that a battle was going on. As he tried to count the numbers of the enemy, he was surprised when he saw only one man in a black robe. Marmion stood before the baffled paladines and grinned. "Fools! Soon you will realize what a wizard can do!" A dry voice inside his head added: "Especially when he is assisted by a King of Hell." Marmion frowned and raised his hands. Magical missiles flew forth towards the paladines. Sir Marillion saw how the paladines who stood at the front fell from the red-hot arrows which flew out of the wizard's hands. He felt anger rise up in him. "I told all of you that there is still dannger." He drew his sword and ran towards the wizard from the side. Out of the corner of his eye he saw how his fellow paladines were slaughtered by the blistering fire. Raising his sword, he bellowed his war cry and charged the wizard, who looked up at the unexpected attacker. But the wizard raised his hand faster than lightning and fire flared at Marillion who felt how his body was being engulfed in energy, how his skin and flesh were burned away, how his bones crumbled. He felt it all. His being was caught in the wizard's fire even though his body had turned to ashes. Marmion smiled and wiped the sweat from his brow. All the paladines were dead, even that last one. "Well how do we get in? We do not have the Amberstar." "Easy." Bralkur created a disc of glowing light in front of the gates of Godsbane. Marmion was surprised. "What is that?" "A teleport through the Great Seal, right into the castle." Marmion fell quiet when he realized the power needed for such a spell. Then he stepped through the disc. He had to perform the ritual to free Tarbos. Thus he would gain ultimate power. Bralkur had said so.
The end and the beginning
Only a band of courageous adventurers can stop Marmion, and he must be stopped for he has enough power to perform the ritual and bring Tarbos back to Lyramion. To stop Marmion, you must enter Godsbane. However, Bralkur's teleport leads through the demonic realms, if it is still there at all. So you must find the thirteen pieces of the Amberstar. Some have become lost, others are still being kept. You will find clues all over Lyramion. Once you have found all pieces, you must assemble the Amberstar. This must happen in a special place, but sadly no-one knows where...
Now, go with my blessing. Know that I will try to help you if you really need me.
Vol 7 Issue 2
The year is 2189: Mankind has slowly ventured out of its small corner in space. Planets were discovered, terraformed, colonised. A new frontier was formed. Society changed itself, adapted to life in space and on other planets. And from these other planets came a new sport. It began as a rough battle between junked gliders with mining lasers and old farming droids re-programmed to fight. In just 30 years, it grew out to an organized sport, spreading to all planets, even back to Earth. Arenas were built, enemy droids designed. The sport was called Trex, its players: Trex Warriors.
Axaro Mey, Trex champion of Earth since eight years, sat back in his bubble chair and told his control terminal to show the Trex News channel. It came up on the wall-to-wall TV screen. The networks were going to show a report on a new Trex Warrior tonight. He was always interested in potential competition. Jolani, his daughter, entered through a door on the other side of the viewing room. Mey looked at her. Her blond hair was sculpted in the latest fashion, her body was dressed in a stylish moss green monomolecular kimono. She looks like her mother when she was young. Mey looked back at the screen. Jolani sat down and made a show of studying her hands. "Daddy?", she said after a while, examining her nails, "There's... been a little accident." Mey looked sharply at his daughter. "You're not pregnant, are you?" "No! Of course not", she said with fake shock in her voice. "Good. I hate kids." Mey turned his eyes back to the screen and said: "So what happened?" "Well, I umh... was on the freeway with my new sportglider, and I was driving sort of fast, and then I crashed into someone else." "Any damage?" "Well... the glider has some dents", Jolani said casually, "and it doesnt't work anymore." Mey sighed, but didn't take his eyes off the screen. "Stupid cow. What about the other glider?", he asked. Jolani flushed and stammered: "It was damaged as well. The driver was quite... upset." "Have you got his number?" "Yes. He said he was going to report it." "Hm. I'll have someone take care of it in the morning." "Thanks Daddy", she said meekly. Mey grunted something and turned up the volume.
"... A new Trex Warrior is battling his way through the Trex worlds!" The loud voice of the presenter blared through the room. "Mando Quant, a brilliant new competitor, has just defeated the champion of Liang Wan! Here's a live interview with the victor!" The screen switched to a tall, visibly exhausted man, dark hair falling over his sweat-covered face. Mey moved forward in his chair, his eyes narrowed. Jolani looked up. "Mando, are you going to stay on as champion of Liang Wan or are you going on to Earth?" "I'm going to Earth", he replied wearily. Mey smiled. Really. "So you think you can conquer the reigning Trex champion, Axaro Mey? He has beaten every challenger in the last eight years." Quant took a deep breath and looked into the camera. "I think I can beat him." He walked off. "Well! Some exciting news there! Will he be able to do it? What does Axaro Mey think of this? You'll see it soon on Trex News! Now here's a compilation of some of the amazing victories of Mando Quant."
Mey watched the replay of the Trex battles. This Quant wasn't bad, not bad at all. A bit of an upstart though. He would have to be taught who was the Trex champion on Earth. "Daddy?", said Jolani, "Why don't you invite that man to your party tomorrow?" Mey thought about this. Not a bad idea. He would be able to check him out, see what he's made of. "Alright darling, if you'd like that. I'll send him an invitation." "Oh, great! I'd love to meet him." So would I, thought Mey.
"Hi Mando. Feeling rested?", asked Tandis, looking up from her work. "Yeah. Much better." Quant threw his jacket over a chair. "You've got cooling fluid all over you." "I know. I'm a mechanic. These things happen when you're a mechanic." He smiled. She was a damned good mechanic, too. He thought about the time when they had had a relationship. It hadn't worked out. The memories weren't as painful as they used to be. They had managed to sort of forget the fights, the screaming. After some long talks, they could even work together again, as friends. But there would always be this distance between them. "I've made some coffee", said Tandis from under a panel. "It's in the thermos." "Oh, great. How's Cath doing?" Tandis stood up and took a step back to look at the heavily scratched glider she was repairing. It filled the garage for a large part, its rear end almost touching the large sliding doors. "Well, not bad, considering that you almost wrecked her yesterday. Did you have to ram that guy?" "Hey, he was trying to kill me. What would you have done?" "I'd have tried to give your poor mechanic a break. It'll take a lot of time and money to get that large dent out." Quant poured himself a coffee and smelled. Almost like real coffee. "Well, I got a nice prize. We can afford to have Cath fixed up good." "Hmpf. With some new equipment, sure. And in a larger space, perhaps." "Oh, stop that. You know I don't want to spend all of that money yet. Anyway, we have to move all the stuff to Earth soon." Tandis grunted something unintelligible, ran a dirty hand through her short brown hair, then stuck her head back under the panel. "By the way,", she said from the depths of Cath's propulsion systems, "there was some mail. It's next to the laser drill on the table." Quant noticed the large envelope and picked it up. "Hey, this is real paper." "Yeah. I thought it might be important." He ripped open the envelope with his finger. There was a letter inside, made from the same thick paper as the envelope. After some minutes, Tandis looked up to see why Quant was so quiet. "Hey, what's in the letter?" Quant looked up, looked back at the letter. "It's an invitation." "From whom?" "From Axaro Mey. He's giving a party."
"Ah, Mr. Quant. How nice that you could come." Mey smiled broadly and shook Quant's hand. "Did you have a good flight to Earth?" "Yes, fine", said Quant. He felt a bit out of place in the luxurious mansion. In the hills, too. This must have cost a fortune. Did he earn so much as Trex champion? Mey guided him into the huge living room and introduced him to some of the other guests. Quant recognized some quite influential people. This guy's got it made. "Ahh... and this is my daughter, Jolani." She looked her best: A sheet of real red silk delicately wrapped around her body, accenting her curves, her hair in a single braid falling over her left shoulder. She smiled at Quant. "Hello, Mr. Quant. I'm so glad to meet you." She extended her hand. Quant smiled back and touched the offered hand with his lips. "My pleasure entirely." "Yes", said Mey, "Well, I have to take care of some of the other guests now. Just ask any of the servants if you need anything. I'll join you later." He strode off. "Would you like a tour of the mansion, Mr. Quant?", Jolani asked. "Oh, yes, that would be great,", said Quant, "and please call me Mando." "Alright, Mando..." Jolani gave him her arm. "Really, Mey, your choice of guests always surprises me. That man, walking away with your daughter, isn't he going to challenge you?" Mey laughed. "Well, if he gets through the seven days in our Trex arena, he might, yes. Actually, I invited him because I have a nice surprise for him. I'm sure you'll like it, Your Honour." "Hah! Well, you certainly made me curious now. You do have a touch for surprises", said the portly judge. Mey grinned. "I'll make sure you are warned before it begins."
Jolani gently dragged Quant up the stairs and down a hallway. "Oh, you've just got to see this." Large plex doors moved open at their approach. They walked onto a large balcony. "See? You can see the moon! It's so beautiful!" "Yes. It's very small." Quant looked out. "What is this sea called again?" "The Mediterranee. You can even swim there, sometimes." Jolani looked at Quant, who was staring at the sea. "Where were you born, Mando?" Quant turned towards her. "On Brand VI." "Oh. That hasn't been colonized for very long yet, has it?" "No, the first craft landed 50 years ago. My grandparents were among the first settlers." Jolani frowned slightly, a lovely wrinkle forming above her nose. "My father always makes jokes about people from Brand." "A lot of people do, because they think we're primitive. They should come take a look for themselves. It's very beautiful. If you like desert, of course." "I've been to the Sahara once. What's left of it. It was quite hot." Quant smiled. "You get used to it." They both turned to look at the small moon and the sea. Suddenly they were interrupted. "Ms. Mey? Mr. Quant?" They both looked back, startled. A servant was standing patiently behind them. "Mr. Mey would like for you both to join him in the game room." Having said that, he moved off. Jolani looked at Quant, suddenly quite serious "Come. We mustn't keep father waiting." She walked away after the servant. Quant stood for a moment, slightly confused, then followed her.
As they entered the game room, Quant noticed that most of the other guests were there as well. Mey stood smiling in the middle of the crowd, next to something big. He noticed Quant, and said loudly : "Ah, Mr. Quant! There you are. I have a surprise for you! Please, come over here." Some people sniggered at the word "surprise". Quant moved through the people until he had reached Mey and the big object. Then he realized why this was called the game room. Mey was standing next to a Trex simulator, a plaything only affordable for the very rich. He looked at Mey, who was smiling broadly. "Would you like to join me for a round, Mr. Quant?" Quant realized he could hardly deny such an invitation from the man he was going to challenge soon. So, he wants to test me. "I'd be glad to, Mr. Mey." Mey managed to grin even broader. "Good! Good. Well, let's start then. After you." Quant stepped into one of the seats and adjusted it until it was comfortable. Then he looked at Mey, who was seated opposite him. Between them was a transparent sheet of optical plex, which would soon turn opaque to project the view from their simulated gliders around both players. "Ready, Mr. Quant?" Quant breathed deeply. He noticed Jolani standing not far away. She smiled at him. "I'm ready." "Good", said Mey and flicked a switch. The lights went out and the optical plex turned bright grey. Mey's finger hovered over the beamdown button. He looked at Quant one more time, no longer smiling. "Let's fight", he said. Then he pressed it. Dark orange letters came up on the screen.
ALLOCATED GLIDERS: STANDARD
ARMAMENT: HI-NRG MK I
The simulated arena emerged from the screen, and wrapped around the two players. All outside sound was cut off. Quant flew forward and quickly looked around the arena. Mey beamed down next to him, already firing. Quant felt the shock of the impact and blasted off as fast as possible. He didn't waste any time. This glider didn't handle as smoothly as Cath, which had customized control systems. It was going to be purely a matter of skill and speed, no drones or missiles. Good. Quant radically reversed his direction and turned towards Mey's glider. Flying in front of him all the time he blasted away until his laser was too hot. That must have hurt. Mey fired back, but Quant made a tight turn and watched the bolts fly by in front of him. He continued to go backwards so his laser could cool off. Damn. No weaponcooler. Suddenly he felt the glider shake. Mey was shooting again! He must have pulled that same stunt on me. Quant quickly flew forwards again to evade Mey's shots, but Mey turned and kept on firing. Damn! Then Mey's laser was overheated. Quant breathed out explosively. He made a full stop, turned around and flew straight at Mey, firing his laser like a madman. Mey managed to answer the barrage of energy with a few blasts, but his laser was too hot. At the last moment Quant turned away and shot past Mey, who turned around and immediately went into pursuit. Quant had expected this response, and was now heading for the damage-field he had noticed earlier. It was between two walls, with only a very small area behind it. Now we'll see if you're as clever as you think you are. The damage-field came up in front of him. Mey was firing now, but he couldn't see what was in front of Quant's glider. Quant roared over the damage-field, accelerating all the time to compensate for the slowing effect. Sirens blared and warning lights blinked, his shield energy went down. Then Mey rammed him from behind. Quant was in the safe area, but Mey didn't fit anymore. He tried to ram Quant further away, realized it was impossible, then tried frantically to reverse. But it was too late. His glider exploded. Suddenly all the lights came back on, the optical plex sucked its views back and turned from grey back to transparent. Everyone gasped, then started talking. Quant looked at Mey who was staring at him, his face white with suppressed fury, then he looked at Jolani. She was laughing happily, until Mey gazed at her.
"I want him out!!!", shouted Mey, "Completely disabled! Deactivated! No longer functioning! Dead!" He stomped through the sitting room. He was still furious about yesterday's humiliation. That man has beaten me. After eight years. He could do it again. He must die! "Of course, Mr. Mey. What do you want me to do?" Mey stopped pacing and turned towards the dark-clad man who was sitting calmly in a bubble chair. "What I want you to do? I want you to make sure he loses that final match! Is that so hard?" "But, Mr. Mey, he will very probably survive if he loses." Mey walked up to the man and put his face quite close to his. "Listen, Rottner,", he said very quietly, "just make sure his craft malfunctions at a crucial moment. Then I'll shoot him when he's down, okay?" Rottner thought about this for a moment. "Hmm... nice", he said approving, "But can you break the only rule in Trex?" "Of course, you fool!", said Mey, pacing again. "Do you think they'll say something about me, the reigning Trex champion? Besides," he added smiling, "I know the referee. I know him quite well." "Good", said Rottner calmly and thought. Mey stopped in front of a holographic picture of his mansion. "I could lose all this." "What if he survives the explosion?", asked Rottner. "If he survives, which isn't very likely, your man who will drive the ambulance will make sure he dies along the way to the hospital." "You seem to have thought of everything, Mr. Mey,", said Rottner, "but why so much trouble? Why not simply kill him on the street?" "He must die in front of millions! He must be humiliated. No-one must question my superiority." As she heard her father walking towards the door, Jolani hurried around a corner in the corridor. "He can't do this! Not to Mando!", she thought. She couldn't help him herself. She had to send a message.
Tandis Mundevi closed the panel in Cath's side. Everything was ready for tomorrow's final match. She shortly wondered if Mando could defeat Mey. "Of course, woman", she thought with her father's voice she always reserved for self-admonishment, Mando will beat him. At least Cath was as ready as she was ever going to be. She wiped her hands on a piece of fabric, and walked to the small side room next to the main garage space. Luckily Mando hadn't rented a crummy garage like on Oceania. She stripped her overall and underwear off and stepped in the shower stall. Hot water splashed down on her face in a short bursts. She washed off the sweat and dirt, pressed for another burst of water, then activated the dryer. She turned round and round in the stream of hot air, loving to feel clean after a day's work. Then she stepped out of the stall and opened her locker. "Hmmm... what will I wear tonight?" she said to herself, made a show of choosing, then took the single garment from its hanger and slipped it over her head. She adjusted its straps and ran a hand through her hair. "Ms. Mundevi, you look positively wonderful." She gathered up her dirty clothes, stuffed them in a bag and opened the door to the garage. As she switched off the light in the side room, she heard a small noise from her left, behind Cath. She stood still in the dark. The only light came from the small glowtube on the other side, over the door leading out. "Is anyone there?", she said. Her voice sounded strange. "Silly girl", thought her father, of course there's no one there. She walked to where she had heard the noise. What if there is? She took her pocket beam out of her bag and approached the end of Cath's broad side. She flicked the beam on and looked behind the glider. Nothing. Realizing she had been holding her breath all along, she breathed out. "Foolish woman", thought her father. "Shut up, Dad." She turned around and walked to the exit, closed the door behind her and walked away. After five minutes, a voice sounded in the dark of the garage. "Fool! She almost saw us! We'd have had to get rid of her then!" Someone else muttered: "Shut up! We have work to do."
Earth, the final day.
Quant waited for Mey to beam down and wondered what kind of weaponry he would be up against. "I hope I can beat him... There he is!" Mey fired the moment he had beamed down. Just like in the simulation. Quant flew off, watching his radar. He saw small white dots coming from Mey's blue dot. Gundrones! He made a wide turn along the arena's edge. All he could do now is evade the gundrones and try to shoot Mey when he was in sight. There! Quant let go a missile, but it was shot down by a gundrone. He fired his laser. That got him. All the gundrones were gone. Mey started dropping something else. Mini-mortars. Grenades were hurled towards Quant and exploded all around him. He flew faster, but some of them hit. He tried to get Mey in his sight again, but had to keep flying and couldn't seek him out. After a while Quant saw him. Mey was right on the other side of the arena. Quant flew straight towards him. Cath slowed down. Quant accelerated. Cath slowed down even more. What is this? A blanket of grenades was flying towards him, Mey was shooting like a madman. Quant was hit again and again and again, explosions rocked Cath's frame. Everything slowed down. Bright, blue energy sparked in lazy arcs through the cockpit. Cath's kevlar structure bended, creaking, slow but relentless. Red lights blinked, sirens wailed. The armaplex window shattered. Shards flew towards Quant in beautiful slow-motion.
Quant's world had rotated through 90 degrees. Quant's world was filled with pain. His body was filled with shards of armaplex. He smelled something burning. He saw Mey's glider. It flew towards him, still shooting. He can't shoot. He's breaking the only rule!
The final match had just ended. Tandis was looking at the screen in their room in the arena complex. She had been staring without moving for five minutes. He lost. I can't believe it. And Mey just kept on shooting. As the cameras switched from a close-up of the wreckage, of Cath's remains, she started. Someone had chimed. She forced herself to stand up and open the door. It was a service droid. "A telegram for you, madam", it intoned and handed her a folded piece of paper. She opened it and read the short text. "Would you like to answer?", asked the patient droid. "Ehhh... no. No", said Tandis, suddenly agitated. She rushed back into the room and searched through Mando's trunk. The droid said: "Thank you. Have a nice day", before it rolled off. "Quickly! Where did Mando keep his damned credit chips? There!" She held the raw credit chip which held his prize for conquering Liang Wan. Mando hadn't dumped it on his account yet. She ran out of the room without looking back.
Axaro Mey filled her screen, a grave expression on his face. "Mr. Mey, what happened?" asked an eager reporter. Mey started to speak, then shortly covered his eyes with his hand. He began again : "It... was a horrible defect. My cannons were locked, I simply couldn't stop them. I watched the bolts flying towards Mr. Quant - I couldn't do anything about it. It was so horrible." "Yes, Mr. Mey, it was very tragic. However, against all odds, it seems Mr. Quant may still be alive." Mey looked genuinely hopeful. "Really? Oh, I hope that he survives! He must! But the chances are slim, so slim..." "Yes, well, at least you still won." "The referee was fair, as always, and recognized that there was no malign purpose. But was does that matter if Mr. Quant dies?"
The covered stretcher was rolled into the back of the ambulance. The driver closed the doors and walked calmly to the front. As he opened the door, he felt a hand grab him in the collar of his overall and yank him backward. He fell down with a yell, and saw a woman jumping over him, into the driver's cabin. He struggled to get up, but she had already closed the door and before he stood she had roared off. The driver cursed loudly, then ran to warn his boss. Tandis switched on the emergency signals and watched as the traffic moved out of her way. She drove full speed to the city. The text in the telegram was still in her mind: Axaro Mey has sabotaged Mando Quant's glider. He has ensured that Mando will die on the way to hospital. There is a private clinic at the address below. It was signed "A friend". She had no time to wonder about who this friend was. After a time which seemed much too long to her ("Not too late, I mustn't be too late"), she finally arrived at the clinic. She ran around to the back of the ambulance, threw open the doors and rolled the stretcher out. She had already been noticed and two men helped her get the stretcher to the clinic. As it was rolled away, she walked to the man sitting behind the single desk in the reception hall and threw down the raw credit chip. "That man who just came in is heavily injured. This will pay for his medical care." The man looked calmly at her. "Of course", he said. Tandis closed her eyes and sighed. He's safe. Now she had to get away. They were surely looking for her right now.
"What?! You say the ambulance was taken by some woman?!" Mey grabbed the driver's collar and hissed in his face: "Who...was... that... woman?!", shaking the poor man on every word. "Maybe it was the mechanic", said Rottner, calmly sitting in a chair. Mey let go of the man, who almost dropped to the floor, and strode towards his control terminal. "Give me a picture of Mando Quant's mechanic." The terminal system searched in its databanks. A picture came up on the screen. It showed a woman with short brown hair. "TANDIS MUNDEVI" was written in bright blue letters over the portrait, together with a list of data. "Yeah, that's her!", said the ambulance driver. "Rottner," Mey said through his teeth, "get her."
Tandis ran into the elevator and pressed her floor number. She walked quickly down the corridor towards her rented appartment, searching for her keycard. As she opened the door and stepped in, she noticed the dark-clad man calmly sitting on her bed. She opened her mouth and felt a sharp sting in her neck. The world turned black. When she woke up, bright light filled her world. She couldn't move. She was lying down, strapped tight. She felt something cold, metallic... coming out the side of her head. She moved frantically, in panic, but it had no effect, the straps didn't budge an inch. Behind the plex sheet over her body she saw faces. The dark-clad man. And Axaro Mey. Mey turned towards Rottner. "Is she conscious?" Rottner nodded. "Good", said Mey, "Can I talk to her?" Rottner pointed to a mike. "Just talk. She'll hear you." Mey looked back at Tandis. "Hello, Ms. Mundevi. You've been a very silly girl. Do you know where you are? You are in a paintank. You will answer my questions. If you don't, you will get hurt. You will not lose consciousness, you will not die, although you'll wish you would. Now, where did you bring Mr. Quant?" Tandis looked back up at him. She had trouble understanding. It was this thing. "In my head." She frowned, thought hard. "Mustn't tell, mustn't tell. What had he said. Hurt?" Mey looked at Rottner. "Switch it on. Grade 2." Rottner pressed a button. The pain hit her so fast she couldn't tell her body to scream. She just felt pain, pain and more pain, a thousand dentist drills, a million, gnawing away at her nerves everywhere and it hurt and it hurt and it hurt and there was just pain. Oh, please stop. Rottner reached for the off switch, but Mey stopped his hand. "No. Not yet. A bit longer." He looked back at the girl writhing in her straps. After 30 seconds, Rottner switched off. Mey looked up in anger. "Why did you stop? I didn't say." Rottner interrupted him with a hand gesture. "Mr. Mey, we must speak. Outside." Mey closed his mouth and followed Rottner out the room. "What is it?", said Mey. Rottner coughed and said: "She won't live if you make the sessions too long. It's better to use short sessions. Now we must wait before we can go on", Mey grumbled. "She won't live anyway. We can't remove that probe." "You want answers, don't you?", Rottner said. Mey stared at him. Then he said: "Let's have a drink while we wait." They walked off, not noticing the person hiding around the corner behind them. Tandis felt the pain slowly ebbing away. Tears streamed down her face, and for a long time she could not do or think anything. Then she heard a door opening. "Oh no, they're back, no." A dark shape entered her field of view and bent over the plex. Jolani looked at the girl in the paintank. She looked horrible, like she'd been crying a lot. Tandis looked into the person's eyes. She didn't understand. She only understood the pain. Jolani remembered what Mr. Rottner had said. The girl wouldn't survive. She would only have more pain before she died. "My father will kill me if he finds out." She put her finger on the button marked "TERMINATE". The girl looked at her, almost as if she knew what was going on. Jolani pressed the button down. Tandis saw the girl do something and looked at her. Then she felt a click. The pain was gone. Jolani saw the girl's eyes breaking. She turned away from the tank with the corpse and walked out of the room.
I am dead. Darkness. Forever these memories. Again and again, my rise to fame, my battles on the five worlds, the final battle, the final shot, my own death. I cannot see, cannot hear, cannot feel. Do not know where I am. I am dead. Some people do not fear death. They are fools. Suddenly, Quant saw something. The experience was so shocking that he didn't react. Bright light blinded him. Something moved into his line of sight, eyes looked into his. A hand was waved in front of him. The eyes looked away. Lips moved. Just as sudden as it appeared, his vision vanished. The familiar black void fills him. Did I really see? No. Dead men don't see. It must have been a memory. From when? I don't remember it. Many times he thought he was going mad. It was like standing on a high building, hearing the void whisper and you want to jump down. One step, and he'd be free. But every time he remembered the light, the eyes, the hand, the lips. And remained on the edge. An eternity passed, then bright light returned. He waited, didn't react. It will go away soon. He didn't know what cruel twist in his mind caused him to see this, but he wouldn't react like a man dying of thirst, running for a fata morgana in the desert, only to feel dry sand slipping through his fingers. He would be dead with dignity. Perhaps this was hell. The light stayed on. After a while, he saw the face again. Eyes looked into his, the lips moved. It was a female face with female lips. Beautiful. It appeared to be talking to him. Is this hell? He felt tempted to react, but couldn't. No senses. Then, like a majestic chord rising up from silence, sound, smell and touch faded in. It was like coming up after a long dive, all senses returning at once. He was lying down, covered by a sheet. He couldn't do anything. He just looked into the eyes in front of him. The woman reached out, touched his cheek with her hand. It was wet, from tears. She smiled and said: "Welcome back."
Over the next months, he slowly returned to life. He learned that he was in a private clinic, and that he was entered here two years ago, without any ID. The doctors had pronounced him technically dead at first, but managed to revive his body. Then they started repairing the damage. It took them two years. Most of his limbs had been completely destroyed and had been substituted by cybernetical prostheses. Transplantations gave him new organs. His burnt heart had been cut out and replaced by a pump. The major veins and arteries in his body were now artificial, plastic. His left eye was a complex optical instrument. It took many weeks of movement therapies and nerve-sync adjustments before he was one with his new body. He could walk again, he could see through his left eye and his right eye wouldn't complain about it. The doctors said he was as healed as he would ever be. They gave him what was left of the raw credits which were used to pay for the two years of medical treatment. It wasn't much. For the first time since a lifetime he stood outside, in the open air. Where will I go?
Mando Quant was truly dead. Every account, every possible registration of his name has been erased. Tandis was registered as a missing person. Only one name came to his mind. Jolani Mey. He asked her number in a communication terminal, and called her. As he was waiting, he remembered she probably didnn't know what he looked like now. He didn't want to frighten her, so he switched off the camera. Just then, a man's face filled the screen. Quant recognized him. "This is Mey. Who is this?" He managed to say: "Can... can I speak to Jolani Mey, please?" Mey looked suspiciously, then grunted and said something to someone off screen. There was a switch, and Quant saw Jolani's face. She looks sad. "Hello? Who is this?" He started to say his name, but his new voice couldn't pronounce it. He stammered, then said "This is Mando Quant." Her eyes widened, she couldn't speak for a second. "Liar!", she said, "That's... that's a sick, cruel joke! You don't even sound like him! Who are you?! Show yourself!" Quant hesitated, then switched the camera back on. Shock filled her face. He said nothing. After a minute, she said very softly: "Ohhh... it is you. You shouldn't have called." "Jolani, I..", Quant started, but she interrupted. "Not here! I'll meet you in the Hawkings Bar in 15 minutes." "But.." "15 minutes, okay?" She ended the connection.
He saw her enter the bar, wearing shades and an anonymous robe. She looked around and noticed Quant in a corner. Quickly she walked to his table, sat down, and ordered a wine. "Mando, is it you? Is it really you?" He leant forward. "It's me, Jolani, it's really me. Look, I need help, I..." "I can't give you that. I have done enough. I warned your mechanic. I..." Her face was suddenly filled with grief. "Jolani, what happened to Tandis? She's missing." She looked up. "Why is she crying?" "I killed her." "What?" He said: "What? You? Why? How?..." She made a gesture. Quant shut up. Her wine arrived. She took a sip, and started: "Oh, it was so horrible. Your... Tandis had brought you to the clinic. My Dad found out, and had her picked up. They... put her in a paintank. And switched it on. Then they said she wouldn't survive it anyway, would only have pain, but Dad wanted to know where she'd brought you. But... I went into the room with the paintank when they weren't looking... and, and she was in there, and she looked so sad, and, and then I pressed the 'Terminate' button." "Tandis. Cath. No. All dead." Jolani told on. He just listened. "My Dad wanted to kill you because you were better than him and he didn't want to lose all that he had gained. He... had your glider sabotaged. Then he kept shooting when you were down, and later he said it was a mechanical defect in the cannons. The referee was bribed so Dad remained Champion." He sat in silence. "Axaro Mey. What you did to me... you took everything." "Listen Jolani, you must help me. I must... I..." Jolani looked at him. "Mando, I cannot help you any more. My Dad would kill me... like he killed you." She stood up, hesitated as if she was going to say good-bye, then walked off. Quant didn't look up.
The old glider sat on the runway as if it had done so for twenty years. All that could be seen from the man inside was a single red light where his left eye was. His face lit up when he struck fire and lighted an old-fashioned cigarette. The man didn't care about the tar. His name was Bolar. Riano Bolar. He remembered being someone else. Quant. But that was long ago. Quant was dead. Bolar turned off his lighter and started his glider. He had to go to war.
|This text was published in the Atari ST diskmag "ST News" and is used by kind permission of Richard Karsmakers. Source for this article: http://www.st-news.com|